Thursday, January 3, 2013

Finally Found the Lost Piece

For those who read my blog regularly, you know that I have been struggling with the direction I was given at my school to use guided reading groups in my classroom.  First let me say again, I am not opposed to guided reading groups however in fifth grade it is extremely difficult not to have them turn into redbird, bluebird and greenbird in my opinion.  I tried everything last school year, I changed the group members frequently, focused on reading levels, focused on strategies, focused on vocabulary but I never found the missing piece of the puzzle.  I spent all summer thinking about how to change guided reading groups since I knew I would have to use them again this school year. This school year, I chose purposefully not to start guided reading groups until second trimester which gave me 12 weeks to build our reading community.  To help all students become readers, allowed me enough time to learn about my students, and most importantly we had a established community of readers from Preprimer (my new ELL student) to Junie B. Jones,  to Andrew Clements, to five students participating in Newberry Club to classics including Moby Dick.

With our classroom rapport established, the first change was to name my guided reading (Book Clubs) what a difference in the opinions of 10 year old.  Second, I placed the students based on their reading lives not their fluency level, DRA level, not if they are in special ed or in our LEAP (gifted) program, but who they are as readers. Already I felt better about the reading groups.

Enjoying A Day's Work by Eve Bunting
Next I extended the time of the book clubs, I allowed them to choose the days of the week they met, they were able to bring a drink for one club meeting, and they decided if they would have homework. I started with four book clubs based on picture books that I knew each group would connect with because I knew my students as readers.  Ownership of the club became theirs.  Huge with fifth grade students!

I did set the focus for the clubs: to practice the fictional reading strategies that we had learned the first trimester.  I gave them a rubric that I would use to grade their thinking in addition a timeline of expectations.  Again they were in control with my guidance.  Powerful! 

Finally I was able to meet with each group on drop in visits.  I would just pull a stool up to the club and listen to their conversations. I would take some notes if I needed to touch base with a student later to ask a question.  Occasionally I would leave a note with a club to help guide their conversations for the day:  How did the character's motivation influence his choice at the garden?  

For the first time in two years, I am pleased with my reading groups now officially called book clubs.  My students view book clubs as an extension of our classroom reading and most importantly they value the time they spend in their small group discussing, learning and extending their reading lives. 

Enjoying Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco


  1. Wow! This is powerful! I love the way you worked with the rules you were given to do what is best for your students. Great!
    An Open Door

  2. This was pure joy to read today! Thank you for sharing and I'm thrilled for you and your students! I can only imagine how your readers now feel and act like, well, readers! Bravo to you!

  3. I remember that feeling when I found my missing piece to bookclubs back in February. Once again, we have blog posts that are very similar...even our titles! :)

    I am going to go with...great minds think alike! :)

    My favorite sentence you wrote was, "Ownership of the club became theirs." Choice...the driving force to engagement, inquiry, and ownership!

  4. I wish. :( We have half hour book clubs and I found a guide to literature circles that was wonderful. The reading "coach" sent me preset questions I should ask for each chapter..No way! I prefer the way literature circles are "run" by the students. Hats off to you for your innovative way of "teaching" reading!
    "You Think They Don't Know: Grouping By Ability"

  5. Loved that you are able to, and are willing to,do this!:) Unfortunately, I am not allowed that "luxury." We are, however, allowed 30 minutes for Literature Circles. The reading "coach" tried to force a novel study with preset questions for each chapter on me. I have chosen to use a how-to guide on Literature circles, where the students "own' the story and the discussion!Kudos to you!

  6. Do you also have a time for teaching the phonics and word attack skills, and the extending reading skills (for those LEAP learners)? I teach fifth grade too and I'm struggling to do it all.

  7. Okay. It's official. You're BRILLIANT.

  8. Once again my blog is my PD and my PD community are the comments. I am so thankful for the comments and it helps me to know that other intermediate teachers are feeling the same way.

    Camille: I always keep the rules but more importantly I put the students first. Not always easy but it is my goal.

    Michelle & Mary Lee: Thanks for your positive words!

    Tracy: ditto totally feel like we're on the same page so many times.

    Lisa M. Congrats to you for not losing literature circles. You're still building a community and love of books.

    Anonymous: Great question and the answer is yes through word study and my Poetry Friday is very strong in those areas. Enrichment comes in choosing a higher level book for book club and pushing the whole group not just the LEAP students.

  9. I have felt the same feeling. It is such a joy to hear you write this and explain your approach. I am back in fifth grade after a few years in third. I haven't started my "book clubs" or literature groups yet for the same reasons you noted.

    Just a question, how did you group them by reading habits? I like this idea but not sure how it would look.
    Thanks again

  10. Great question Kelly, For some groups I based them on their likes, genres, or needs. One group last time loved words and had started word notebooks, so I chose a story with strong vocabulary and vivid imagery. Another group was struggling with sequence so I chose a story that flowed easily. For my Chicken Sunday group, they needed "pushed" so the theme was more difficult as well as the speaker in the story which led to great conversations.